Following the completion of the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (also known as Ithra) in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, Snøhetta has been commissioned by the center to develop the design for the exhibition “Edvard Munch: Landscapes of the Soul”. This marks the first time that the great modernist painter is showcased in the Arab world, and it is the first exhibition by a Western figurative artist in Saudi Arabia to date.
The exhibition is located in the Center’s Great Hall – an up to 13 meter-tall, multipurpose space. Composed of five small, asymmetrically formed pavilions that reference Norwegian cottages, the angled pavilions provide a sharp contrast to the organically shaped space in which they are placed. The pavilions are arranged around a central space referring the Norwegian “hyttetun” – an open, central gathering place associated with Norwegian farmhouses.
The pavilions are designed to have two surfaces – the inside and the outside – that meet at the entrance where the warm plywood progresses into a colder white surface. The inside walls provide a clean backdrop to the raw human emotions expressed through the art pieces.
The pavilions are made of plywood, the surface of which references many of Munch’s wood cuts and provides a warm atmosphere to the room.
Considered one of the greatest painters within the expressionist tradition, Munch’s work is characterized by deep self-exposure, introspection and intense emotions, all of which are displayed in various expressions in the 40 exhibited artworks. The exhibition’s theme, “Landscapes of the Soul”, leaves room for contemplation and self-reflection. Each of the five pavilions showcase a selection of Munch’s well-known paintings under joint themes; Portraits of the Soul, Melancholy, Love, Despair and Loneliness, respectively.
The Portraits of the Soul pavilion exhibits a selection of Munch’s renowned self-portraits as well as an earlier lithographic version of the famous “Scream”. They illustrate how the artist looked at himself, introspectively, from young and vital, to depressed, old and weak. The Melancholy pavilion features iconic perspectives from Åsgårdstrand, the little Norwegian town in which Munch spent many of his summers. The serene backdrop intensifies the feeling of depression and sadness for the artist, whose works are oftentimes highly autobiographical.
The Love pavilion showcases works of vitality and creation, and touches on topics such as harvesting and fertility. The Despair pavilion depicts some of Munch’s most grievous moments, from the tearful sight of his fatally sick sister, to the “Bohemian Wedding” in which all guests are miserable in their own respects. The final pavilion, Loneliness, is largely set around the artist’s old age at his house and studios at Ekely in Oslo and houses paintings that portray Munch’s self-inflicted solitude on the outskirts of the city.
As several of the artworks are highly sensitive to light, a complex light system has been developed for the exhibition to ensure a proper presentation of the displayed paintings while meeting the highest conservation standards.
The exhibition content is documented through a bilingual book called “Edvard Munch: Landscapes of the Soul”. The book is designed by Snøhetta and co-published by the Munch Museum and Ithra. Designed with two front covers, the book can be read from left to right in English and from right to left in Arabic.
The graphic contrasts between the Latin and the Arabic alphabet has become a part of the visual expression of the book. The cover of the book is partly bound with a cropped detail of the famous “Scream” lithography – the most iconic work in the exhibition.
A complex light system has been developed for the exhibition to ensure a proper presentation of the displayed paintings.
A close-up detail of the laser engraved plywood walls.
The exhibition is curated by Lars Toft-Eriksen of the Munch Museum and will be on display at the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture until the 3rd of September 2019.